Our story in Matthew is one of the obscure rising to prominence. It is the story of the lowly, forgotten, and powerless seeing hope rise: “When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to the Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in the lake region in Capernaum.”
“To Galilee? Capernaum? What is Jesus thinking, going to the rural countryside? I thought he wanted to be a prominent teacher….Well, forget about being king,” reads the notes in the margins. This is how I feel when my friends on the East Coast hear I am serving in Oklahoma. “Oklahoma???” they say, “Do you all live in teepees? Do you have cable TV?” Wow, get a grip folks. We may be a bit off the beaten path, but we are hardly on the margins of US culture. (Although if you watch our government officials acting like baffoons it is easy to make the mistake.)
This shift of Jesus from the Galilee may not sound like much to those who do not know the land, but this marks a significant shift in ministry, and a strange one at that. John’s ministry was one isolated in the wilderness. He may have been associated with the Essences, who were interested in purity and separation from the corruption of the Temple guard. Nazareth on the other hand was in the Galilee. It was mainly farmers and shepherds, with some artisans interspersed. But by going to Capernaum though, Jesus sets a tone that says something even more radical: Those who shall see the great light are those who have sat in great darkness, and now on them light has shined. Those who have fallen into obscurity will be the first to learn of the greatness of God.
And who are these folks? The most unlikely. Fishermen, tradesmen, and foreigners. Around this lake are the outcast of Hebrew society. It is pure Greco-Roman life colliding with Jews, and the furthest thing from the temple imaginable.
This passage all but says God’s rule is coming to those you least expect. Brace yourself for a bumpy ride, because this story gets crazy. Indeed it does. Not only does the Messiah die on a cross, but the inheritors of the kingdom are a rag-tag bunch of misfits, many of which came from this region. These people were the salt of the earth, literally connected to its land.
This passage, while cloaked in esoteric language and code, stands as a beautiful descriptor of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is much like saying, “And now, even those in Oklahoma will see the great light!” In the most unimaginable place possible, grace and glory shall rise. From a state that in many ways was a dumping ground to try to isolate and oppress native peoples, to being a land where the value was so low they were giving land away, we sure did rise together, didn’t we?
May the glory of God shine into all the distant and dark regions of your heart this day. May you find the good news in the least likely of places. Like the graphic today of a phoenix, that great mythical bird, may you rise out of the ashes of your past to new life today.